I received a review copy of this game from the publisher.
Heroes of Tenefyr (2019) is a cooperative deck-building game for one to four players with a fantasy dungeon crawling theme. The game was designed by Pepijn van Loon and released by his publishing company Broken Mill.
The game comes in a box four times too big for its contents. If you’d sleeve the cards in very thick sleeves it would still be twice as big as needed. The cards are flexible and nice to handle.
The cover of the box and on the rule book shows a breathtaking vista of a valley and four characters, dwarfed by the mountains on both sides. The view is from inside the gates of a dungeon or fortified cavern that the four adventurers seem to be leaving. The cover art is in stark contrast with the card illustrations. Those are on the goofy side, simple and cartoony.
The rule book is clearly laid out and getting started is no problem, but once I’ve played for a few turns I have rules-issues that have to be resolved online. This is a very common problem. Fortunately the designer is helpfully answering questions on the BoardGameGeek forums.
I will not go into detail about the rules here. The rule book is available on the publishers website and board game videographer Rahdo has made a video that shows how the game is played. His video shows the two-player variant, but it’s a good general introduction.
At the start of the game there are ten small, semi-randomized decks representing ten dungeons of five different levels of danger before you on the table. You are a novice adventurer and your equipment and skills are represented by a deck of basic cards.
The top card of each dungeon is face up, so you know what your first challenge will be if you choose to enter a particular dungeon. Next to each dungeon deck is a card describing the reward you’ll get for successfully clearing the dungeon of monsters.
A tracker that advances one step every time you manage to clear a dungeon and twice every time you’re defeated and thrown out adds tension; when the tracker reaches the end you have to fight the boss. When you set the game up you adjust the tracker on the track to set the difficulty level. The more steps there are before the boss attacks the easier it will be.
Before you enter a dungeon you shuffle all the cards of your deck into a draw-pile. You fight a monster by drawing three cards. You get to discard and redraw as many times as you like, but if you run out of cards before you defeat the last obstacle in the dungeon you’re out of power and will be thrown out. You do this up to two times for a total of six cards. You have to play all cards that you’ve decided to keep, whether you want to or not. If the total power of the cards is enough to beat the enemy you take the enemy card, rotate it 180 degrees and put it in your discard pile. The card now represents a skill you’ve learned or an object you’ve acquired. Then you reveal the next monster and do it all over again.
If you clear the dungeon you get the reward on the reward card, usually the chance to remove a card from your deck or to add a new card from the box.
As new cards are added to your deck you get to do more than just deal damage. Some cards let you draw extra cards, some let you remove unwanted basic cards from your deck and others are particularly powerful if you’re playing a certain kind of character. Your goal is to improve your deck as much as possible and be prepared to face the boss at the end of the game. The boss works more or less like a dungeon, but it’s significantly more challenging.
Decisions and Work
The higher level dungeons are harder to beat and also offer greater rewards. Since time is limited by the advancing tracker you have to make sure to always fight the toughest enemies that you have a chance of beating. If it weren’t for the tracker you’d just go through all of the dungeons from level one through five, adding stronger cards and removing the weaker ones. You’d win every time. In fact, you can almost do it that way if you play on the easiest difficulty level.
The challenges of this game can be divided into two important decisions that have to be made several times over the course of a game. Firstly what dungeon to enter next. Secondly whether to fight or flee if your odds are running low when you’re approaching the final enemy in a dungeon.
You want to do as much as possible before you have to fight the boss, but since you can’t do everything (unless you play on the easiest difficulty level) you have to aim for the dungeons that give you the best possible reward without having you thrown out, thus losing time. To pick what dungeon to enter next you have to weigh how much time you have against the possible rewards and risks.
If it looks like you might not be able to clear out a dungeon with the cards left in your deck you have to decide whether to flee or to take your chances and risk being thrown out. If you flee you don’t get the reward but the tracker only advances one step. If you fail and are thrown out the tracker advances two steps. If you succeed in clearing the dungeon the tracker also advances just one step, and you get the reward, of course.
These decisions are all about weighing risks against rewards and pushing your luck, and in themselves they are interesting decisions to make. The problem is that they are the only decisions that require any deeper thought. During a fight you decide whether to keep the cards you’ve drawn or to mulligan, and that’s usually a very simple, statistical decision and only rarely challenging. Deciding what cards to get and what cards to get rid of is a no-brainer nine times out of ten and usually you don’t even have a choice. Your starting cards are worse than almost all other cards available, so when you get to remove some cards the choice is usually very simple.
The trickier decisions are made between dungeons, in the short respite between fights. But most of the time you’re fighting. Since the decisions made during fights are so simple, as a player I feel like I’m reduced to an automaton doing the job of manipulating game components for the greater part of the time. If you’ve picked the right dungeon after careful consideration the actual dungeon crawl is just like a very drawn out, overly complicated die-roll where the result is most likely to be in your favor. If it seems, towards the end, that you might not make it, you have to pause and think for a moment, trying to decide whether to stay or leave.
Once your deck has evolved a little the decisions during fights become somewhat less obvious, but the overall feeling of doing chores rather than testing your skills in the dungeons remains.
Some more interesting decisions seem to be introduced by playing with more players. Choosing who gets what and who does what deepens the tactical challenge somewhat. I found playing two-handed to be too fiddly, however, and went back to playing according to the solitaire rules, with one deck, and tried different difficulty levels. The easiest difficulty is extremely easy, and going to medium makes the experience more thrilling since you can actually lose. Deciding what dungeons to enter becomes an actual challenge. But the fighting and the deck-building still feel like mindless tasks. The only real difference is that your odds are lower.
Perhaps playing Magic: The Gathering for almost 25 years is what makes estimating probabilities before card-draws and mulligans feel so simple. In that game it’s something you do constantly, but only as a small part of the game. The decision space is much broader. In Heroes of Tenefyr you do the same kind of basic probability estimates, but these estimates are the main focus of the game and most of the decisions are binary – simple yes or no decisions. I’m using Magic as an example and not for comparison. The games are very different.
The game also has a quick variant with just five dungeons, but that just feels like a watered down version of the game.
The push-your-luck decisions in this game are sometimes interesting and fun but for the most part they are very simple, especially the ones meade while fighting, which happens to be what this game mostly is about. For this reason the gaming-to-upkeep ratio leans heavily towards upkeep. There are some good ideas and mechanisms in this game, specifically how certain character classes get better use of some loot from the dungeons than others, and the tracker that puts some pressure on the player, but these interesting features are not enough to make this game a worthwhile investment for solitaire play. I believe that this game would work way better played cooperatively since that would open up for more tactical decision-making. As a solo game, Heroes of Tenefyr has way too much down-time between its few exciting moments, and for most of the time the simple choices make me feel like a card-manipulating robot.
From the perspective of a gamer used to handle basic probability estimations in the back of his mind while focusing on more complex decisions, this game in its solitaire form is just too simple. This game might be more suitable for younger or newer players.
Other People’s Opinions
Have a look at the short review video from One Stop Co-Op Shop for another perspective on the game and some thoughts on cooperative play.
I also recommend watching the very positive review by This Game is Broken, where Heroes of Tenefyr is compared to the solitaire classic Friday. This video also mentions the game’s merits as a game for young or new gamers.
Finally, have a look at Greg Mahler’s review of the solo variant. Greg’s review provides a counterpoint to mine as he concludes that Heroes of Tenefyr “has all the things [he] like[s] in a game.”
Thank you so much for reading! Me and the cats hope that you found the review useful. Meow!